Super sub Ivan Bukenya's strike a minute before the regulation time saved East Bengal the blushes as they managed to hold minnows Aizawl FC to a 1-1 draw in the opening match of the 10th I-League football tournament in Barasat (West Bengal) on Saturday.
Following a sloppy first-half where their defence was wayward and midfield looked disoriented, East Bengal conceded a goal in the 45+1st minute when Gurwinder ended up smashing into his own net trying to clear the ball.
As it turned out Ugandan defender Bukenya replaced Gurwinder in the 67th minute before lodging the ball in from close range to bring East Bengal on par, in what was a lacklustre start for the red and gold brigade, eyeing to win their first I-League title.
A comedy of errors brought an end to the first half as Gurwinder brought doom when Jayesh Rane found Stephane Bayi and the Ivorian had three men surrounding him but his shot was only cleared by the Punjab born defender straight into his own net.
The Northeastern outfit almost doubled the lead three minutes after the changeover with a thundering header from Alfred Jaryan but the crosspiece came in their way.
Substitute Brandon Vanlalremdika further missed back to back goals in space of three minutes, first from a freekick as he tried to hit it on the volley that missed narrowly.
Brandon's surge in the 68th minute squared it perfectly to Alfred who went past another but had no space to shoot and instead picked out the sub but only to put it away.
He went down the right this time and tried to shoot towards the near post. The ball took a deflection off Bukenya and East Bengal goalkeeper TP Rehenesh had to adjust to pull out a last minute save.
Rehenesh once again made a fine save in the 79th minute when Albert Zohmingmawia's shot came from the right.
East Bengal had their best chance in the 50th minute from a freekick. Narayan Das got it down the left and set it up delightfully for WillisPlaza with plenty of room. But the Trinidadian striker, who was brought in after the changeover, missed the target with Aizawl goalkeeper Albino Gomes doing his job.
Image: East Bengal's Ivan Bukenya celebrates scoring the equaliser against Aizawl FC during the I-League season opener in Barasat on Saturday